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Poster: jerlouvis Date: Jul 17, 2011 7:30pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: influence of classical music on the GD

One of the reasons I was interested in responses to this thread was to see if other listeners felt classical to be as strong an influence on the music as I have come to regard it.My main musical interest outside of the GD and a few other rock bands is avant garde jazz,and I can hear it's influence ,but I also can feel classical music having an impact on the Dead,but with such a weak background I can't point to specific examples.It was cool to learn the juxtaposition of songs was the bands idea of a classical device to make for a fuller more contrasting piece of music,if I understood bkidwell's point on 19th century music and basic structuring in classical music.That is the kind of information I was hoping to garner,not so much this sounds like that,but how classical made it's imprint felt on the GD catalog.

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Jul 18, 2011 4:41pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: influence of classical music on the GD

I can try to provide a list of a lot of elements I think are an example of overlap between the GD musical style and "classical music" broadly defined.

1. Long time-span and transition between different musical ideas. This is more-or-less the most prominent commonality. I wrote about this a little bit already, but the idea of playing a very long segment of continuous music which tries to move from one theme to a different contrasting theme and plays "variations" on the themes is very much a "classical" musical process. Even longer and more complex jazz music rarely seems to have this kind of very large-scale concept organizing it with the degree of sophistication the GD had.

2. Dynamic contrasts and diverse musical materials. One aspect of how the GD deviate from conventional rock style is that sometimes they play very quiet, sometimes very loud, and the crescendos are often dramatic. One of the common and valid criticisms of a lot of popular music is that it is all at the same volume, and nowadays studio processing often deliberately compresses the music into a tiny dynamic range. Another aspect of this is that GD had a musical language which included very delicate, ethereal melodies and textures. The type of very quiet playing Jerry would do in some songs like Stella Blue and Morning Dew seems to connect to the lyrical, pianissimo moments that are very characteristic of European art music.

3. Use of melodic sequences based on thematic fragments as a developmental technique. This is more of a "technical" topic but I think it is very important. The material we think of as being the core of the GD improv repertoire, Dark Star, PITB, Other One, is all based on fairly small melodies which have a number of characteristic "figures" the band could use to create variations by playing fragments of the melody in different places within the scale. Think of the way the "Main Ten" theme would be played in multiple variations prior to the return of the reprise after the jam, or the way Jerry and Phil jam in The Other One, where they play cascading series of triplets derived from the main theme up and down the scale, or the long "paragraphs" of scale fragments in swinging rhythm that 69 Jerry played in Dark Star. This musical technique can also be found in the playing of some jazz musicians, but I hear it more strongly in the kind of developmental techniques you will find during Beethoven's sonata-form opening symphonic movements.

4. Modulation and harmonic range. Even though the GD often based their long song-sequence jams on direct key overlap, there was also a lot of harmonic change, and modulation between different harmonic areas was one of the key organizing principles of large scale composition in the classical era. The great essayist D.F. Tovey wrote a series of essays in musical analysis of many of the most famous works in the European tradition prior to the 20th century, and he describes key relationships as having affective significance - you experience emotional reactions based on the relation of different keys, because it is like a sequence of chords "writ large." The GD didn't systematically create a single tonic for a show, but you can hear the pull of harmonic relationships often in their music. The group of tunes that often associate with "Playing in the Band" are a good example. China Doll, Wheel, UJB, Terrapin, Crazy Fingers - all of these songs are in keys that are fairly close to G or C. It seems the band really liked the feel of associating the two different D modes of Playin (mixolydian and dorian) with songs that used a lot of G and C chords. I feel a certain kind of "relaxation" from these key relationships, in contrast to the sharper and more dynamic tonal areas associated with songs like Scarlet->Fire and Estimated->Eyes, which are on the sharp side of the circle of fifths. Rock music doesn't usually get very far into the flat keys, due to the bias towards the sharp side created by the open strings on guitar and bass.

5. Classical-derived alternate scales and chords. This isn't a huge area, but the diminished sevenths of "Slipknot!" are very much a classical device, as are the whole-tone (Debussy-esque) scales that Jerry sometimes liked to play with in Space. The 6/30/85 space has a nice example of this sound, but you can hear it crop up briefly in a lot of spaces.

6. Sound manipulation to imitate acoustic symphonic instruments - this is a big category, because it stretches from some aspects of the early feedbacks, and later some volume pedal or effects loop stuff in the early 70s, and extends to the controversial MIDI-era. I think the midi spaces of the 90s are much better music than they are generally acknowledged to be. I would say a lot of the classical elements, in terms of harmonic freedom and variational technique, really came to the forefront here, but because the music usually doesn't have a steady rhythmic pulse and the synth sounds often have a grating aspect because of the use of fairly primitive sampling synth technology of the era, a lot of people find them displeasing.

7. Avant-classical influence. When most people think of classical music they think of 18th and 19th century music. In the 20th century, classical went way, way weird. If you think 1990s space or 74 seastones is "unlistenable" wait til you meet a lot of 20th century composers! Many of them completely abandoned everything you enjoy in music - chordal harmony and steady rhythm. Instead, various abstract compositional systems like total serialism or aleatory were explored, and for the most part, the audiences hated it. A lot of 20th century classical music is still controversial, even though we have learned to love Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, which was so controversial it caused a riot at its premiere! The craziest of the crazy music the GD played I think sounds more like avant-classical music of the 20th century rather than the free jazz it is often compared with.

8. Last and not least at all - Phil Lesh's bass playing. Phil plays absolutely nothing like a rock bassist, and everything like a brilliant classical composer. To my way of hearing the band, Phil is the most important member, followed by Billy, and Jerry is third! It's kind of silly to say something like that, of course, and its partly born of a bit of "contrarianism" towards the Jerry Jerry Jerry and more Jerry approach a lot of people take towards the band, but Phil really does it for me. The way he can push the music to a completely amazing level in passages like the end of the 8/27/72 Dark Star (or many, many other jams in the 72-74 era) is sublime.

This post was modified by bkidwell on 2011-07-18 23:41:58

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Poster: jerlouvis Date: Jul 18, 2011 9:54am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: influence of classical music on the GD

Thanks for taking the time to create such an information rich post,it will take a few passes to digest a couple of the points you made.Reading your posts in this thread confirmed some thoughts I had on the subject and opened my eyes to a new or different way to listen.In time I will formulate some more questions on this topic.

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Jul 18, 2011 10:18am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: influence of classical music on the GD

Hmm, given this some thought, have you?

One good question though, would to what extent the overlap between GD music & classical music in your points 1-4 are due to actual influence, or is coincidental... Despite the presence of an honest-to-god classical composer playing bass in the band, it's possible some of these shared techniques were arrived at independently by the Dead in their pursuit of new jams, rather than deliberately molding themselves after classical stylings.
I wonder if, for instance, their variations of the theme in different keys in Playing in the Band, or the way Jerry varies the main Dark Star riff in similar fashion, or their preference for jam suites that were in related keys, was actually derived from any classical techniques or if there weren't more direct reasons for those that they found in rehearsals.

What ended up with a classical resemblance might have started out with different intentions. For instance, the Dead's first known transitions? Caution>Death Don't and King Bee>Caution from '66. And their first medley with a return to the theme? Schoolgirl>You Don't Love Me>Schoolgirl from '66. Their first extended jams? Viola Lee Blues and Midnight Hour. So a case could be made that their initial delvings into segues & extended material were actually most influenced by the medleys & long dance numbers blues and soul bands played at the time. (The dynamic range, with Jerry sometimes playing very quietly, may also be partly cribbed from electric blues guitarists; that's actually a common technique, though the song genre is different.) And the types of speeding-up jams they were playing in '67 Viola Lees were more likely inspired by listening to Coltrane & Shankar than to Beethoven.

Then again, you never know with the Dead; they're such a melting-pot stylistically - a blues will soon turn the corner into jazz (as in the Same Thing), or an avant freakout into a country medley (as on 8/27/72), or rhythmic rock into violin-like duets (as in some Other Ones). All these elements are equally important in the full range of the Dead's music.

Anyway, someone someday needs to tackle a history of the Dead's transitions. The classical elements you note may have been arrived at after trying out other styles of medleys - the first real bloom of constant transitions, in early '68, does seem mainly jazz-inspired to me. (Indian music also had a big impact on them at the time; that's where the Main Ten figure originated.)
But Phil's and TC's avant-classical groundings were definitely a huge part of the Anthem album, and there's a direct line between that and the later Spaces.
Jerry on Anthem: "We were making a sound collage... It had to do with an approach that's more like electronic music or concrete music, where you are actually assembling bits and pieces toward an enhanced nonrealistic representation."
Phil on Space: "I think the whole space section, which essentially evolved from our feedback experiments, is a response to electronic music and concrete music, found-objects music, tape music, that sort of thing. Some of the discontinuity that we get going - the heterophony of everybody playing something different - probably comes from those worlds to a degree."
But when asked whether his modern avant-electronic leanings were brought into the Dead, Phil warns, "Somewhat. In any amalgam, any alloy, there are several components, and there are parts of those components that get melted away in the joining." I would point out that, for instance, Phil likes modern music where, as he describes, "It's difficult because it usually doesn't have even rhythms or a euphonious tonality that it always comes back to so you always know where you are." In that sense, the Dead made only limited use of 'electronic & concrete' styles in that they never abandoned their melody-&-rhythm-loving listeners for long...and even then, only deep in the second set!

Space is actually a good example - while you find strong classical stylings in the '90s, as Phil pointed out, the whole Space concept evolved out of the big post-Caution show-ending Feedbacks, which rather than a "response to electronic music" is much more likely to be a response to the over-amplification and love of feedback many rock guitarists manifested at the time. (The Dead's first known Feedback, for instance, was around the same time as the Monterey festival with its well-known blasts of noise...)

Which brings up another point - that the Dead had the good fortune to start out during the freest, most experimental phase of rock music, when it was all "new" and rock musicians were grabbing freely from all varieties of music. There is a direct resemblance between, say, the Beatles' Day in the Life, and the Other One suite on the Anthem record - both are two songs joined together with a reprise that ends in a climax of Stockhausen-inspired noise. So I suspect it's not always possible to disentangle the classical threads in the Dead from the mingled web of their other influences...

Anyway, I'm writing a post on a related topic, so this has been a useful thread for me!

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Jul 18, 2011 3:11pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: influence of classical music on the GD

>to what extent the overlap between GD music & classical music in your points 1-4 are due to actual influence, or is coincidental

I think there is another possibility, which is "parallel evolution" - the desire of the Grateful Dead to play on a longer timescale than short individual songs led them to evolve a set of musical techniques for structuring their performances which end up being similar to classical music, because the principles of musical sound determine what will work, aesthetically.

It is similar to how the law of gravity means that buildings worldwide will have a similar basic structure, with walls and a roof on top - there may not be a direct influence, but neither is it a coincidence - the laws of nature imply that roofs+walls is how buildings will generally be constructed.

I think the nature of our minds and the physics of musical sound means that the kind of "musical architecture" we hear in both classical music and the GD is in some ways an inevitable result of trying to play long-form music.

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Jul 18, 2011 10:10pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: influence of classical music on the GD

I like the 'independent discovery' theory myself, though I'm sure the Dead were nudged along the way by various listenings. And for sure Phil would have noticed any resemblances between a Dead piece and its classical antecedents.
How grounded Jerry was in classical music, I'm not sure - the record seems to be silent on this, as far as I remember, so we have to guess from his playing.
Actually the whole issue of the Dead's influences - what they heard, what they copied, what they transformed - still hasn't been studied enough, so a lot is relatively unknown, or at least hasn't been effectively compiled. (Ideally a whole stack of "Dead sources" and A>B comparisons should be available. Heck, there are whole books analyzing the Beatles' songwriting development! And you know how many volumes there are technically analyzing & notating the music of jazz & classical "greats"...)
Just as a random instance - here's a blogpost about one influence on Garcia's guitar style I'd never heard of:
http://hooterollin.blogspot.com/2011/04/howard-roberts-jerry-garcia-and.html

Another point is that the jams & transitions we hear are only what they chose to share with us... There must have been an infinity of possibilities in rehearsals, only a sliver of which made it to the stage. In general, I think the Dead usually improvised live within a 'known' framework, in that they knew where things would end up and roughly how they'd get there - their telepathic skill and high success rate (in the first 10 years at least) is one indication of how practiced they must have been, and (by inference) how many paths they didn't take.

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Poster: Roberta Flack Date: Dec 1, 2011 6:01am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: influence of classical music on the GD

Artist: Grateful Dead
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Poster: jerlouvis Date: Jul 18, 2011 8:01pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: influence of classical music on the GD

As usual LIA you bring some interesting points to the table,and throw a thought monkey wrench into the mix causing more ideas and possibilities to bounce around my brain.Bkidwell's 8 point post was still working on me when I came across yours.I had listened to an especially feisty live version of the Love Supreme suite by Coltrane and detected what I believe to the technique of playing a series of notes derived from the main theme up and down the scale,that he had noted in point #3.Happy I might have made a little use of some new information I see your post and it opens a door to a whole new way to think about how they used the music that influenced them,so much for a step forward in knowledge,it can be humbling how complex this hobby can be.
In any event I did a little classical listening and searched out a short piece that I have always enjoyed,for one reason or another Paganini's violin works have always interested me,and this one puts me in mind of Jerry during a very out jam in Dark Star or Playin' or such.Caprice No.1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eblB2-y23Dc